Does the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) punch way about its weight? Well, results so far show that the party could not do an encore like Delhi. In 2013, the party confounded political pundits by turning into an iconoclast, shattering set political theories. In a way, it became the Indian equivalent of the 1992 Ross Perot factor in the American Presidential election.
In a political voyage of less than a decade, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) continues to be an outfit whose achievements in the arena of elections remain largely confined to its stupendous success in Delhi.
Since its electoral debut in 2013 in Delhi, the nascent party struck success just twice outside the national capital, winning all its four Lok Saba seats from Punjab in 2014, managing to retain one during the last general elections and emerging as the main party in the opposition in the border state following the 2017 assembly polls.
From a high perch in Delhi, the capital city where a large portion of middle classes backed Shiela Dikshit’s government for 15 years, the Congress remains decimated after it was shown the door in 2013 and with liberal support of the working classes, AAP retained power twice in a row, 2015 and 2020 under the leadership of its national convener Arvind Kejriwal.
These victories were creditable coming as it did in the face of a huge challenge mounted by the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the most popular leader in the general elections preceding the Delhi polls. The BJP juggernaut was halted not once but twice by the AAP and the verdict encouraged the party to enter the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with gusto. The verdict from the people was a thumb down.
Does the AAP punch way about its weight? Well, results so far show that the party could not do an encore like Delhi. In 2013, the party confounded political pundits by turning into an iconoclast, shattering set political theories.
In a way, it became the Indian equivalent of the 1992 Ross Perot factor in the American Presidential election. The inherent confidence of an independent party challenging two established parties—the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party—Aam Aadmi Party did what Perot as an Independent did to the Democrats and the Republicans by securing votes across the political spectrum.
The enthusiasm tempered over time and AAP turned pragmatic. It remained active in contesting elections in assemblies across the country without winning any seats. Barring Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2018, where it fielded candidates in a majority of the seats, the AAP entered the fray more to mark its presence.
Why is it that the party has not been able to make headway in terms of electoral success in several states it contested since then? Is it because the politics of the party remain tagged to that of its leadership? Was it on account of the inability of the party to showcase achievements of its government in Delhi be it in the form of the much-touted mohalla (neighbourhood) medical clinics or improvement in both school infrastructure and learning outcomes? Or were the people not convinced of the efficacy in the backdrop of frequent run-ins with the Centre?
Now with assembly elections expected to be held early next year across five states, Goa, Manipur, Uttrakhand, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the party under Arvind Kejriwal is gearing up to contest and Punjab in its calculations appears the best bet followed by Uttrakhand and Goa, not necessarily in that order.
The party has had an indifferent run in the state. The party and its legislative wing worked independently, often seen pulling in different directions. The organisation could not retain its leaders and recently three of its legislators crossed over to Congress.
Probably learning from the missteps it made last time in the state, Arvind Kejriwal also announced the party will have a Sikh as Chief Minister Candidate.
The strategy is to open up an opportunity for the AAP amidst two heavyweights, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and the former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal. Last time, besides internal pulls and pressures, the AAP made no projection and it was a factor in altering the landscape. This added to tilt the scales in the face of consolidation of political forces opposed to the AAP, largely on account of the perception of the party leadership’s dalliance with radical elements.
The ground in Punjab remained fertile for the AAP in 2017 as the party attracted people who were upset with the governing Shiromani Akali Dal government and was searching for an alternative to the traditional opponent in Congress. This time, the SAD tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party hoping to get a fair share of the slightly over 30 percent of Dalit votes in the state that goes up in the Doaba region.
A recent tweet by rebel Congress legislator Navjot Singh Sidhu on how AAP recognises his work in the state, set people speculating whether the former India cricketer is preparing the ground to switch sides to AAP, a move that fizzled out four years ago.
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal.